The Beheading of St John the Baptist

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The Beheading of St John the Baptist
Image:Herod's Birthday

Picture courtesy of pinterest

The major commemoration of John the Baptist was on 24 June. That was originally the commemoration of his birth; this is the commemoration of his death. The main focus of the principal date is on John as the forerunner of Jesus, he was Jesus cousin by birth and it gives the outline of his life and ministry.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, places all responsibility for John’s death on King Herod, claiming he carried it out to prevent a popular uprising against himself. Herod had anxieties about the messianic overtones of John’s more general call to repentance in view of God’s coming judgement. Such a message posed a threat to Herod’s security, especially as John was a popular figure. But we have to give some reasonable doubt – there are indications that Herod liked listening to John preach, that he knew the very inconvenient consequences of killing one who was clearly a prophet of God, particularly if it was not sanctioned by the Sanhedrin who were always a power behind the throne, and some would claim the real rulers, because they spoke for God. So Herod just had him arrested and imprisoned.

According to the Gospels, John’s death (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29) was occasioned by Herod’s wife, getting annoyed over John’s criticism of her marriage to Herod Antipas. We often don’t like to hear inconvenient truth, and Herod divorced Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas of Nabataea and unlawfully took Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. John inevitably spoke the truth, since King Herod’s brother, Herod Philip I wasn’t dead, under Jewish law they were committing adultery.

Herodias, didn’t like having the truth of her sin, being shouted out for all to hear, but Herod refused to kill John, so she arranged to have her daughter, Herod’s step-daughter, dance for him on his Birthday. She was young and pretty and it may have been an Egyptian style harem dance, it was obviously erotic and enticing enough that King Herod was as planned, overwhelmed and offered her a boon, (often the practice to a favourite who had performed well).

King Herod promised to give her whatever she wished. He offered her up to half his kingdom, which indicates he was offering to put her mother aside and share his throne with her. But in front of his guests and military officials, in obedience to her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist and having promised Herod could not then safely retract it, without great loss of respect and power. John the Baptist was immediately beheaded.